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A Riddle:

Q. How would you describe the political ideology of someone who worked for Michael Dukakis's campaign, was a cabinet secretay for Bill Clinton, holds a high-level position in the Obama Administration, and, who, when applauded at a Federalist Society meeting, responded "Thank you very much--I think. Let me remind you, I am a Democrat. I am proud to be Democrat"?

A. "Right of Center" (The N.Y. Times describing Larry Summers.)

UPDATE: Some commenters suggest that I've overlooked the fact that members of the Federalist Society applauded Summers to begin with. No, I haven't. Summers won the applause of attendees at a Federalist Society held at Harvard Law School because (1) he was extremely popular among Harvard students, and was under attack; (2) his opponents were (primarily) on the far left, and he stood up for common "liberal" (in the classical sense) values against them. The telling aspect of the event was how embarassed and almost upset Summers was to be on the receiving end of such a nice welcome from the Federalists (you can view the video from a link on this page), and how he felt the need to disclaim their affinity for him. Given that the Federalist Society is an ideologically conservative/libertarian organization, I read "I am a Democrat" to mean, "I am a man of the Left." I don't know any Federalists who would object to a Justice Thomas or Scalia or Roberts if he were a Democrat.

(Note also that Summers' ultimate response to the women-in-sciences controversy was to issue an abject apology and throw money at his critics. Summers' reputation as a "conservative" seems to come from his taking economic positions that are fairly standard even among liberal economists. It reminds me of how people used to complain that the professor who taught intro economics at my alma mater was "conservative" because he opposed rent control and supported free trade. He was actually a Social Democrat, news that he was happy to share with anyone who bothered to ask.)

Also, several commenters complain that this is a "partisan" post. The point of the post is that Times reporters and editors have a very odd definition of "right of center," and I'd add that reading the Times with this in mind is helpful. I'm a bit at a loss as to why that is "partisan."

FURTHER UPDATE: Some commenters argue that the Times was describing Summers as a "right of center economist," which means simply that he is right of center for an economist. This is even more dubious than the notion that Summers is right of center in general. Economists of all political stripes tend to support free trade and negative income taxes, oppose agricultural subsidies and restrictions on capital and labor mobility, and believe that minimum wages cost the young and unskilled employment. When it comes to more politicized issues that economists tend to disagree about, such as whether there should be a minimum wage at all, and whether Social Security should be privatized in whole or in part, Summers is reliably on the "left."

Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
How would you describe a VC poster who omits that Summers was not being described as generally right of center?
People familiar with the deliberations say that Mr. Summers has been more populist than they expected for a right-of-center economist[.] [Emphasis added]
An egregious hack, perhaps?

I don't know enough about the economic spectrum to assess the truth of the statement the NY Times actually made, but I know enough about the English language to see it is totally different from the statement this post implies that the NY Times made.
6.8.2009 11:38am
Colin (mail):
Shouldn't the question at least mention the mystery man's policy positions? A recitation of his prior jobs isn't determinative of his political ideology; if you want to challenge the description, then some discussion of his actual ideology would be much more persuasive (and interesting). I'm sure we'll get that in the comments, though.
6.8.2009 11:38am
DangerMouse:
This is the New York Times. Your mistake was that you read it in the first place. Don't read that cage-lining if you want to be informed.
6.8.2009 11:41am
corneille1640 (mail):
Based only on the information Mr. Bernstein provides, I wouldn't say "right of center." But I'd agree with the other commentators who suggest that we need to know more about this person (and about the context of the NYT statement) to accurately assess the "right of center" terminology.
6.8.2009 11:42am
Pyrrho:
I would agree with Colin. The fact that someone worked for democratic presidents / candidates and describes himself as a democrat says nothing about the person's ideology. Ideology is based on the person's actual comprehensive political views.
6.8.2009 11:43am
David M. Nieporent (www):
How would you describe a VC poster who omits that Summers was not being described as generally right of center?
Someone who perhaps assumes too much of his readers, for understanding that of course he was being described as an economist, because what else would he be being described as since he's an economist, and that's the whole point of the post?

He served as an economist in Democratic administrations, but the NYT calls him a "right of center" economist.
6.8.2009 11:45am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Lazarus, I'm tempted to delete your comment as an obvious violation of our comment policiy. Instead, I'll just point out that I see no distinction between describing someone as a "right-of center economist" or just "right of center." The possible exception is that I can see how economists might be presumed to be more "right wing" than other Obama Administration officials, in which case describing his a "right-wing economist" suggest that he is not just "right-wing", but "right-wing even for an economist."

Colin, I don't think Summers has written a magnum opus describing all his policy positions. Can you name for me anyone you would describe as "right-of-center" who has supported Dukakis, Clinton, and Obama? And would that individual be obviously embarassed to be on the receiving end of applause from attendees at a Federalist Society conference?
6.8.2009 11:45am
rainl (mail):
One quibble: The Times uses that adjective to describe his economic world view — not his political ideology, as you profess. Now, you do have every right to question weather or not his economic world view have been right of center.
6.8.2009 11:45am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Change "wing" of "of center."
6.8.2009 11:46am
Melancton Smith:
In my opinion, the "center" has been drifting left over the last 200 years.
6.8.2009 11:47am
BABH:
Since more than half the country self-identifies as "Democrat," it is a mathematical certainty that there are Democrats who are right of center.

Given Bill Clinton's triangulation strategy, it does not seem unlikely that some of these may have ended up in his cabinet, leaving them well-positioned for senior jobs in the Obama administration.

Larry Summers may or may not be such a person, of course, but Prof. Bernstein gives us no reason to judge one way or the other.
6.8.2009 11:47am
Observer:
DangerMouse: TITCR
6.8.2009 11:48am
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
rainl has repeated my point more judiciously. The post is about political ideology and the original article is about economic policy. There's a large gap there.
6.8.2009 11:49am
Constantin:
Since more than half the country self-identifies as "Democrat,"

I'd love to see a citation for this one. Because no, they don't.
6.8.2009 11:53am
Pyrrho:
How can you "see no distinction between describing someone as a "right-of center economist" or just "right of center."? One's views on the economy are only a portion of one's general political ideology. It is entirely conceivable that someone might have "right-of-center" economic beliefs (keep in mind that the phrase, by itself, suggests a tone of moderation), and be very liberal on social issues, legal issues, etc. Such a person could support a democratic president for these reasons even if his economic views were more in line with a republican. Of course, you claim that he "supports" Obama and Clinton, although that is not clear from your initial posting. Working in a president's administration is not the same as "supporting" that president in the commonly-understood sense. Many cabinet officials cross party lines to serve, and it does not cause them to "support" the president in the sense of supporting their entire political ideology. (Is Robert Gates a "supporter" of both Bush and Obama?)
6.8.2009 11:54am
Nik B.:
David M. Nieporent wrote:


He served as an economist in Democratic administrations, but the NYT calls him a "right of center" economist.


It's unclear if that is the NYT calls him or if it's what the "people familiar with the deliberations" called him. It makes a huge difference.

Also, you seem to suggest that something absolutely precludes a "right of center" economist from serving in a Democratic administration. Care to elaborate on what, exactly, that is?
6.8.2009 11:55am
davidbernstein (mail):
if you said i was a right of center law professor, the response wouldn't be "but what about on non law issues?"
6.8.2009 12:01pm
rainl (mail):
DavidBernstein
Change "wing" of "of center."

Those words aren't really analogous here. For example, a centrist, as Summers economic world view is widely regarded could easily be classified as right of center, but not as right-wing, at least in common parlance. Right-of-center implies your at least one foot over the political divide, while right-wing tend to imply you're either near or out in the right extremity of the political divide.
6.8.2009 12:04pm
E Kaufmann (mail):
One should remember that, using the entire developed world as a reference, US Democrats are, in fact, Centre-Right (or perhaps even Right).

Policies that may appear to be 'leftist' in the US may easily be perceived as being Centre-Right in Europe.
6.8.2009 12:05pm
frankcross (mail):
It seems a bit of a cheap shot. The article refers to the comments of "people" in the White House who viewed him as right of center. Well, those people are presumably on the left. So that probably influences their view of the center.

But I suppose the real point is that to dispel the truth of the suggestion that Summers is right of center on economic positions, you would have to actually examine his economic positions, not just his party affiliation. He clearly has taken right of center economic positions in the past (like the efficiency of putting our hazardous waste in poor countries). He's a free trader, which could be considered right of center.

I think ideological stereotyping of economists, except at the extreme, is kind of silly. But I personally know economists who are strong Democrats (on social issues) but pretty conservative on economic ones.
6.8.2009 12:06pm
rick.felt:
Since more than half the country self-identifies as "Democrat,"

That's just dumb. Dumb for Democratic Undergound. Dumb for 4chan. So dumb that if I knew your identity, I would out you, extreme Whelan-style.

If you want to take self-identified Democrats (~39%) and Republicans (~28%) and claim that a portion of the remaining 33% of the population that is either independent, moderate, other, neither, refused to answer, etc. can reasonably be apportioned to Democrats to give them a majority, that's one thing. But that's not self-identification. If you want to claim that the majority of voters who register party affiliation are Democrats, you're probably right. But that isn't "more than half the country" self-identifying as Democrats. If you want to claim that the majority of voters who identify with a party are Democrats, that's a fine claim to make. But that's not the one you made.
6.8.2009 12:14pm
rosetta's stones:

"People familiar with the deliberations say that Mr. Summers has been more populist than they expected for a right-of-center economist, siding often with Mr. Obama's political advisers."


So, in this sentence, Obama's political advisers are "populist", and Summers is "right-of-center", and is siding with them. Right.

If we fisk that NYT statement, we find that these bailouts are not populist, not by a long shot, quite the opposite. We also likely find that they fit a socialist pattern of government. Mr. Summers appears to be "siding" with Obama's political advisers on all this. But, he's "right-of-center"? I don't think so.
.
.


Mr. Summers, in an interview, dismissed such talk as coming from "people who disagree with me." He added, "The advice I give is based on determining the right course of economic action, recognizing all the political factors."


Yes, Mr. Summers, we know you consider political factors. You're on a political team, afterall, although it'd be hard to discern that, if all you had was this NYT piece.

Nice catch, Bernstein. Those NYT slugs are still attempting to insert themselves as representative of the mainstream. They can't get to bankruptcy fast enough. Good riddance.
6.8.2009 12:15pm
David Hardy (mail) (www):
A Washingtonian looking for work? Look at Dick Morris.
6.8.2009 12:17pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I think ideological stereotyping of economists, except at the extreme, is kind of silly. But I personally know economists who are strong Democrats (on social issues) but pretty conservative on economic ones.
I'm sure there are plenty of those. But wouldn't it be odd for those people -- people who are "pretty conservative on economic issues" -- to serve as economists in Democratic administrations?
6.8.2009 12:19pm
DNL (mail):
A Democrat who is met with applause at a Fed Soc event can't be right of center? Why is that?

I don't think there's anything wrong with the label, for what it's worth. Compare him with Sen. Specter. Until a few months ago, he would have fit the same description, but it's perfectly fair to call him left of center.
6.8.2009 12:19pm
LongCat:
He wasn't supporting these administrations merely by donating money, endorsements or volunteering on the campaign trail, but by serving as an economist. Why would these administrations employ a right wing economist in his capacity as an economist just because they knew they agreed on issues unrelated to economics?
6.8.2009 12:22pm
TRE:
It is stupid to attempt to distinguish between his views as an economist and his political views. Economics, as "Pyrrho" should know, comes from the Greek for household management.
6.8.2009 12:22pm
resh (mail):
Right of centre today can certainly be instantiated by a Larry Summers' type that has an economic nexus to the liberal, left-of-center nuances of the three you noted.

That one wears a rose to the prom need not mean one's a devout florist.

His ideology, economic, political or otherwise, is not predicated on his resume. Moreover, the centre-right arena is now more the province of the bluedog democrats than anyone else. Look behind the curtain. It's easily possible that Summers embraces those dogs or that he is subsumed by them.
6.8.2009 12:22pm
RMF (mail) (www):
This post is a reach. It implies that all proud democrats are left of center. Can you spell tendentious?
6.8.2009 12:28pm
rainl (mail):
To expand on my last comment, in domestic political writing, you hear the United States often described as a "center-right" nation, with poll often used as evidence. Substitute "right-wing" for "center-right" there would really change the claim, wouldn't it? ..The U.S., a right-wing nation?
6.8.2009 12:30pm
frankcross (mail):
David N., that seems right. Except that it has happened. Kennedy chose a Republican Sec'y of Treasury. Clinton's choice of Rubin (and Summers) resulted in him calling his economic policy that of an Eisenhower Republican. Now, my personal impression is that Summers may have compromised some of his true views in order to hold this position. I sense, as the article says, that he has shifted to being left of center in the Administration itself.

But I think the vast majority of economists including today's Larry Summers, would be right of center, if the alternative is "populist." The problem is ideological stereotyping. The NYT article is ambiguous, but I read it as the journalist describing the views of the interviewee. If that person's a leftwing populist, that person will definitely consider Summers right of center.

But, if I may repeat myself, it seems like one should actually analyze Summers' economic positions before categorizing him.
6.8.2009 12:31pm
Greg (www):
Hey, Bernstein, can you name me another economist trained under Martin Feldstein, who was chief economist for the World Bank, who cut capital gains taxes and championed deregulation in his government positions, was vilified for taking on a popular black professor at Harvard, finally drummed out of that institution for his position on gender, and was applauded at the Federalist Society who could be described as "left of center?"

Can you find anyone criticized by Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz but who sided with Paul Wolfowitz who could be described as "left of center?"

Don't you have time for more substantive analysis? This was a silly and shallow criticism.
6.8.2009 12:31pm
A.C.:
I thought it was the Republicans who were supposed to be enforcing ideological purity these days. The party in power can't afford to do that, or it won't stay in power long.
6.8.2009 12:33pm
vepxistqaosani (mail) (www):
Perhaps someone could define "center" as opposed to both "left" and "right"?

My (non-rigorous) impression is that both left- and right-wing journalists and opiniators use "center" to mean "left".
6.8.2009 12:35pm
Cold Warrior:
You guys are all missing the obvious. To most of the NYT readership (and no doubt to political - not financial - writer Jackie Calmes) the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Larry Summers is "got fired at Harvard for saying things that upset female faculty groups.". To the NYT that equals "right of center" forevermore, regardless of what he thinks about fiscal policy.
6.8.2009 12:42pm
Pyrrho:
Since when does the Greek origin of the word supersede the English meaning? Economics is a specific academic discipline and there are specific meanings to the ideas of "right" and "left" within the discipline. Calling someone a "right-of-center economist" specifically suggests that the person's views of economic policy are right of center. It is only impossible to distinguish economic views from one's complete political ideology insofar as economic views are one aspect of that ideology. But they do not so completely define someone's ideology as to preclude the possibility of a "right-of-center" economist supporting democratic presidents (again, it is pretty tenous to suggest that working for an administration is the same as "supporting" the president). We have no idea the relative weights any given person places on various political issues, of which economic policy is only one.
6.8.2009 12:43pm
Cato The Elder (mail):
Duh. That's so they can categorize anyone who's not for socialism or disguised socialism as an "extreme right-winger". Continually making reference to Europe as if our politics cared what Europeans think.
6.8.2009 12:46pm
Seamus (mail):

Policies that may appear to be 'leftist' in the US may easily be perceived as being Centre-Right in Europe.



So the newsroom of The New York Times is European?
6.8.2009 12:48pm
Cato The Elder (mail):
I'm not sure what to think about Larry Summers. His economic policies, when written in op-ed essays at the FT or some bourgeois news-mag seem like liberal policies that reasonable people could disagree about, and I was favored to him after the ridiculous reception he received at Harvard for daring to rigorously examine the disparities in high-level science/mathematics between the sexes.

But then he also seems to have a dangerous lust for power. When he took that consulting job at DE Shaw, I thought he'd finally learned what high-IQ people do, who don't have a gluttony for punishment, instead of doing public service work for Democrats who'll turn around and corrupt that sensible sounding policy into something twisted and unrecognizable. But apparently the same reasons that he got fired for Harvard under pretext will be the same reasons he seems prone to try to implement his erudite Keynesian policies only to see them continually come out in failure.

So I really don't know how to judge him.
6.8.2009 12:52pm
Cato The Elder (mail):
Shorter me: Undoubtedly brilliant, but uses superpowers for evil. I mean Sinestro was awesome, but the Justice League still had to vanquish him.
6.8.2009 12:56pm
john dickinson (mail):
Calling Summers "right-of-center" has nothing to do with his politics or his economic positions. While president of Harvard, he was moderately supportive of ideological balance and made friendly with conservative students, faculty members and organizations on campus. The Harvard liberal intelligensia who think conservatives are intrinsically evil and don't deserve civility (many of whom work at the NY Times) have never forgiven him.

That and the whole women-in-science thing.
6.8.2009 1:02pm
robc:
One's views on the economy are only a portion of one's general political ideology.

Not true. All actions are economic actions, so politics is just a portion of their economic ideology.
6.8.2009 1:07pm
levisbaby:
Anyone care to offer any actual facts showing that Summers is _not_ a "right of center economist."

So it would appear that the NYT is correct and that all of this is just partisan hackery.
6.8.2009 1:08pm
Recovering Law Grad:
Bernstein -

Why do you pursue such substanceless nonsense? I guess I am naive, but I would have thought that a law professor would be able to engage at a more thoughtful level. This is just partisan stuff that belongs on your own version of "Media Matters." Get a life.
6.8.2009 1:17pm
whit:
i agree with cold warrior. larry summers forever lost "left wing cred" when he dared mention that there is (ample fwiw, and pretty inarguable...) research that men and women's brains develop differently, and that, on average, they have different skills (men have narrower longer tails in terms of intelligence distribution, and women are better at language, men better at math.)

that's when summers became a pariah for daring to upset the anti-scientific left. (the hard left ignores science when it comes to gender issues much like the creationist right does when it comes to evolution).

for another example of a person who gained instant pariah status, look at hitchens. the guys about as left wing as you can get, but as soon as he came out anti-islamofascist and pro-war he instantly became in the eyes of many on the left , a "neo-con", etc.
6.8.2009 1:19pm
David Welker (www):

Lazarus, I'm tempted to delete your comment as an obvious violation of our comment policiy.



David Bernstein,

Do you not recognize the tension in your tendency to make statements that arouse partisanship and your expectation that the responses you get will always be models of civility? I am not saying it is justified. But, on the other hand, it isn't surprising.

I know that you clearly value civility. I also know that is not all that you value. So, I don't think there are any clear-cut rules here. But, I think as soon as you go do something that is perceived as blatantly partisan (i.e. attack the NY Times for having a liberal bias - *yawn* - enough already) you can sort of expect a drop in the level of civility. Basically, I think YOU set the tone. Which, of course, doesn't mean that whatever you are saying isn't worth saying. It just means that you should consider the trade-offs. Especially with respect to whether you can make the same point in a way that is less likely to lead to as many of these sorts of responses.

That said, I equally recognize agency and responsibility in your commenters. I just thought I would point out that you are playing a part as well.
6.8.2009 1:19pm
David Welker (www):
whit,


i agree with cold warrior. larry summers forever lost "left wing cred" when he dared mention that there is (ample fwiw, and pretty inarguable...) research that men and women's brains develop differently, and that, on average, they have different skills (men have narrower longer tails in terms of intelligence distribution, and women are better at language, men better at math.)


That is pretty funny that you think the jury is already out on all these questions whit. I suppose your enormous social science training has lead you to the skills to evaluate these kinds of questions. However, for lesser intellects like Larry Summers, these questions are not quite as clear. What he said was that there should be research on these questions -- he, unlike, you wasn't saying that these questions were resolved.
6.8.2009 1:22pm
Cato The Elder (mail):

Why do you pursue such substanceless nonsense? I guess I am naive, but I would have thought that a law professor would be able to engage at a more thoughtful level. This is just partisan stuff that belongs on your own version of "Media Matters." Get a life.


Another case of a leftist being outraged at the subject material a conservative chooses to explore. Does the other side usually reciprocate this disingenuous nonsense, for example when some liberal blog castigates the Republicans for being "old white men" who are futiley resisting their political comeuppance at the hands of the new demographic majority when they oppose minority nominees? Does the right-wing go about with ashes upon their heads lamenting the dangerous debasement of the discourse?
6.8.2009 1:24pm
Philistine (mail):
Larry Kudlow, writing at NRO also wrote (in November 2008):


In fact, there is no question that Obama's economic team is right of center. [ed: Speaking of Romer, Summers and Geithner] All three are market-oriented. They're also pro-free-trade. Hopefully Summers and Geithner maintain the Robert Rubin King Dollar policy of the Clinton years. And if Ms. Romer can stop tax hikes, that will help the greenback even more.


So it's not just the NYT...
6.8.2009 1:25pm
levisbaby:
Shorter Cato the Elder - "Get off my lawn, you kids..."
6.8.2009 1:27pm
MarkField (mail):

All actions are economic actions, so politics is just a portion of their economic ideology.


I didn't know they gave Masters degrees in tautology.
6.8.2009 1:28pm
Recovering Law Grad:
Cato -

Is it not possible that a conservative could have said the same thing? Why or why not?
6.8.2009 1:32pm
dmv (www):
Um, everyone knows Larry Summers is centrist with a slightly rightward lean, at least when it comes to economic policy. Therefore, I'm left scratching my head about why this was posted in the first place. The only thing I can figure is that Bernstein is taking a shot at the NYT. For saying what everyone already knows. Ooook.
6.8.2009 1:35pm
whit:

That is pretty funny that you think the jury is already out on all these questions whit. I suppose your enormous social science training has lead you to the skills to evaluate these kinds of questions. However, for lesser intellects like Larry Summers, these questions are not quite as clear. What he said was that there should be research on these questions -- he, unlike, you wasn't saying that these questions were resolved.



i did not say the jury was out. i simply think the vast weight of evidence supports the hypothesis.

also, fwiw, summers did not say merely that there should be research on these questions, although he did point out that research on these questions was stifled due to political concerns. there already HAS been a lot of research on these questions. it is just simply not talked about in polite leftist society because the data overwhelmingly suggests conclusions that the left is uncomfortable with, namely that not all inequalities of condition between the sexes is the result of nasty, evil white capitalist patriarchal heterosexist, sexist discrimination

hth

the distribution of intelligence, fwiw, is supported by a lot of evidence, but since it helps explain why there are going to be far fewer women at 3 standard deviations from the norm (in both directions), it is ignored because clearly whatever disparities exist , it is the fault of sexist men.

hth
6.8.2009 1:37pm
David Welker (www):

I'm sure there are plenty of those. But wouldn't it be odd for those people -- people who are "pretty conservative on economic issues" -- to serve as economists in Democratic administrations?


I would agree with you to the extent that you assert that this is evidence that he is probably not right of center. However, one could argue, for example, that the Clinton policies on welfare were right of center. So, I don't think this evidence is exactly dispositive.

Of course, it is not exactly clear what we are arguing about either. Policy views, in reality, are multiple dimensional. Categories of Left versus Right can be represented on a single dimension. So, clearly, a lot of information is lost in such crude classifications. Also, because so much information is lost, one can imagine many different reasonable (and conflicting) definitions of where the center lies.

For example, should the center position be identical to the views of the median voter? That is, should it be empirical? Or should the center be defined conceptually as laying halfway between two "extreme" views that one imagines it is possible to have? If the latter definition is used, what exactly are the extreme views that represent the two poles? How do views line up linearly?

Anyway, all of this is to say that I don't think your argument that Larry Summers served in Democratic Administrations therefore he must be somewhere to the left of "Right of Center" is exactly decisive. I would say that his service in Democratic Administrations, if we know nothing of his substantive views, constitute non-decisive evidence of his political leanings. But his statements of his views themselves are the best evidence of his views - and his service is a second-best sort of evidence.

By the way, the fact that Larry Summer's was applauded by the Federalist Society -- I was there when it happened by the way, as a former member of the Harvard Law School Federalist Society -- I think is evidence that his views are not so easily classifiable.
6.8.2009 1:37pm
Cato The Elder (mail):
Levisbaby,

I am not saying "get off my lawn at all". I am just noting that the standards of civility between the left and the right are very different. What bothers me is not so much that difference in civility standards -- the difference, I do care for the fact that it is not atypical to be called evil, stupid, a "wingnut" or some sort of other insult for bringing a differing opinion to a left-dominated blog -- but the unvarnished and cheerful hypocrisy those leftists manage to parade in "hostile" territory whenever the spirit of the post isn't up to some Stoic standard is what's actually chafing.
6.8.2009 1:43pm
Recovering Law Grad:
Cato -

You've totally failed to understand my post. The point isn't the political perspective, it's the substance. Volokh Conspiracy is better than partisan pot shots - Bernstein's post wasn't. This is neither a conservative nor "leftist" point of view. And I have no idea what this has to do with other blogs.
6.8.2009 1:54pm
David Welker (www):
whit,

Just in case your curious about what Larry Summers actually said, here is a link to his speech. I don't recall where in his speech he said that research was "stifled due to political concerns."
6.8.2009 1:56pm
not an economist:
I always thought that economists, even "Democratic" ones, are generally a bit right of the non-economist population, because of their market preferences. So within Democratic policy circles (i.e., the NYT), the econ advisers are usually the farthest right, even if still left of center. So it skews their view.

But if the economists are generally skewed right, relatively, then that means that adding the qualifier "economist" actually means that their farther-right center point moves some economists into being on the left half of economists, even if right of center in the general population. (Compare to someone on the left edge of miltary officers.) So the NYT's economist tag, if it justifies using a different center, actually makes it a stronger case for calling Summers left, not right.
6.8.2009 2:07pm
David Welker (www):
Cato,

Well, if it makes you feel any better, not all people on the left have precisely the same views. So, it is not exactly inconsistent for one person on the left to highly value civility and another to not care that much about it. Not that I am doubting that you can produce examples of actual inconsistency in particular individuals -- on both the left and right.

Of course, in my own case, the value I place on civility varies based on context. I am usually up for a good debate and would not rate myself highly sensitive. But, I think David Bernstein for example does strike me as somewhat sensitive (certainly more so than myself - but less so than the wimpy girly-men Conspirators who have disabled comments). But then he throws around these partisan statements and is "shocked" to find that it leads to partisanship and verbal competition that does not always manifest itself in a completely civil gentlemanly debate.

Look, sometimes I think commenters are out of line. Definitely. I myself have probably gone too far in verbally attacking sometimes. But, it isn't surprising. The initial post sets the tone.
6.8.2009 2:08pm
Cato The Elder (mail):
Recovering Law Grad,

Do you figure your type of posting furthers these admirable goals, or hamper them?
6.8.2009 2:09pm
David Welker (www):
not an economist,

It all depends on what the meaning of "is" is.
6.8.2009 2:10pm
Recovering Law Grad:
Furthers.
6.8.2009 2:11pm
David Welker (www):
Cato,

Do you think your clumping everyone on the left together as if they were a single person advances your goals?


What bothers me is not so much that difference in civility standards -- the difference, I do care for the fact that it is not atypical to be called evil, stupid, a "wingnut" or some sort of other insult for bringing a differing opinion to a left-dominated blog -- but the unvarnished and cheerful hypocrisy those leftists manage to parade in "hostile" territory whenever the spirit of the post isn't up to some Stoic standard is what's actually chafing.
6.8.2009 2:12pm
dearieme:
I usually describe him as "Too odious even for Harvard".
6.8.2009 2:20pm
David Welker (www):
As an irrelevant aside, does anyone else find the colors used for David Bernstein and Kenneth Anderson to be strikingly similar. It seems like VC is running out of colors for conspirators. Which is probably a good problem for them to have.
6.8.2009 2:23pm
http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb :

Why do you pursue such substanceless nonsense? I guess I am naive, but I would have thought that a law professor would be able to engage at a more thoughtful level. This is just partisan stuff that belongs on your own version of "Media Matters." Get a life.

I have given you the cure for your angst. See if you can figure out what it is.
6.8.2009 2:25pm
Cato The Elder (mail):
David Welker,

For the sake of candor, please do not pretend as if the traits I mentioned are not commonly expressed amongst those who wear their leftists sympathies closely. We saw this sort of hand-wringing all the time on the torture threads, on other threads detailing NYT hypocrisies, on a recent thread examining certain hypocrisies of Harvard professors; these are not singular incidents. In fact, it's intensely annoying to me not to call it out more often.
6.8.2009 2:28pm
levisbaby:
I count 68 replies an nobody has yet posted any support for the argument that Summers is _not_ a a "right of center economist."
6.8.2009 2:29pm
Thales (mail) (www):
It is not even a remotely controversial statement within the economics community to describe Summers as right of center. He and Rubin were on the right wing of a right of center Democratic administration; Clinton in point of fact did very little that did not further cement the Reagan revolution in economic (and a lot of social) matters--he inched income taxes up (as did Reagan and Bush I, at various points) while slashing capital gains taxes, further deregulating capital markets and commercial and consumer banking and making deficit and debt reduction a principal driver of policy, to the exclusion of substantive policy goals--in fact, this last point (championed by Summers) is strongly arguably more right of center than Reagan or either of the Bushes.
6.8.2009 2:36pm
Thales (mail) (www):
To add: There's probably a *reason* other then mere politeness that he was applauded by the Federalist Society.
6.8.2009 2:38pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Do you not recognize the tension in your tendency to make statements that arouse partisanship and your expectation that the responses you get will always be models of civility? I am not saying it is justified. But, on the other hand, it isn't surprising.
First, nothing DB said was partisan. He didn't say that Summers was a poopyhead because he was a Democrat. He didn't criticize any Democrat at all, in fact, for any reason. He implicitly (and gently) criticized the New York Times for bias, for treating someone as "right of center" merely because they were more conservative than the Times.

Second, nothing DB said was uncivil, so where's the "tension"?

Third, even if it were, being uncivil to an absent, third-party institution -- in this case, the NYT -- is hardly the same as being uncivil to bloggers or commenters firsthand, here. If one takes criticisms of anybody on one's own "side" personally, that's probably something one should take up with one's psychoanalyst.


"The New York Times is so far left that it even thinks a committed Democrat like Larry Summers is 'right of center'" does not provide grounds for responding with a personal attack.
6.8.2009 2:39pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
That is pretty funny that you think the jury is already out on all these questions whit. I suppose your enormous social science training has lead you to the skills to evaluate these kinds of questions. However, for lesser intellects like Larry Summers, these questions are not quite as clear. What he said was that there should be research on these questions -- he, unlike, you wasn't saying that these questions were resolved.
Setting aside your misinterpretation of what Whit wrote, plus I think a slight misreading of what Summer said, I'm a little puzzled by your use of metaphor here.

If the jury is "out," then that means that the questions haven't been resolved.
6.8.2009 2:43pm
Thales (mail) (www):
Describing the New York Times or any major media outlet in the United States as "left" or even "Left" similarly betrays a certain lack of perspective. The Nation and Mother Jones are left; Le Monde in France is left. The Times is just the more liberal wing of the great murky center right, doing very little to challenge the preferred lifestyles of its educated, upper income readership (of which I count myself a member, though a critical one). In other words, deeply conservative with a small "c".
6.8.2009 2:51pm
Ben P:

to a left-dominated blog --


Cato, you have a "very curious definition" of a left dominated blog.
6.8.2009 2:53pm
frankcross (mail):
I don't see anything partisan about the post. But it was a cheap shot at the NYT. Surely, the Larry Kudlow quote lays to rest any criticism of the paper here as being "so far left"
6.8.2009 3:01pm
whit:

Just in case your curious about what Larry Summers actually said, here is a link to his speech. I don't recall where in his speech he said that research was "stifled due to political concerns."



i wasn't referring merely to his speech. and i've already read it thanks. unlike some people (present company excepted of course), i gather data, THEN form opinion.

i was referring to what summers said that pissed off the left. that wasn't just his speech. it was what he said AFTER the speech in response to the hoopla from the anti-science left, such as

''It's possible I made some reference to innate differences. . . I did say that you have to be careful in attributing things to socialization. . . That's what we would prefer to believe, but these are things that need to be studied."

the fact that people walked out of his speech because he merely mentioned (god forbid) biological gender differences is pretty frigging telling of the political influence on the study of this topic in academia.

you can't even mention it without a massive explosion of leftist indignation.
6.8.2009 3:01pm
dmv (www):

Summers' reputation as a "conservative" seems to come from his taking economic positions that are fairly standard even among liberal economists. It reminds me of how people used to complain that the professor who taught intro economics at my alma mater was "conservative" because he opposed rent control and supported free trade.

And yet, consider people like Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong, who take positions identifiably more liberal than Summers, but who are respected economists. Consider any of the new Keynesians. Consider Summers' record under Clinton, as Thales pointed out.

More weak sauce, Bernstein.
6.8.2009 3:04pm
q:
I do not understand why people are distinguishing between Summers' economic and political ideologies. To the extent that economists can be rather egotistical, especially a somewhat abrasive one like Summers, they will almost always assert that their ideologies as a whole are grounded on principles. Therefore, whatever Summers's politics, you can be sure he would justify them with economic reasons. Another example is Paul Krugman, whose "economic ideologies" could be described as "right of center" (see his work on international trade and his general support of free markets), but because his "social policies" are clearly "leftist," we would not call him a "right-of-center economist." Moreover, Krugman would justify all his policy prescriptions on economic grounds, as he has been doing in his columns, so it's not like we can distinguish his preferred "social" from his preferred "economic" policy.

There are two ways to interpret "right-of-center economist." That he's generally "right-of-center" or that he's more "rightist" than the average economist. I think we can all agree he's not the latter given many of his social policy preferences. Is he generally "right-of-center"? Maybe from a European standpoint, but from an American standpoint, I don't think so, given his political alignment, as well as his opinions on health care, financial regulation, environmental policy, antitrust regulation, immigration reform, and abortion rights. And I happen to agree with Summers on most of those issues.
6.8.2009 3:06pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
If I hadn't had dental work done this morning, I would have been ROTFL that Larry Kudlow described Obama's team as right-of-center as economists. I don't respect Kudlow's "expertise" at all, but as evidence that the original post distorts the NYT to fabricate a claim of liberal bias, this is powerful stuff.

Perhaps some people have been overly influenced by the lockstep practices of the previous Administration, which found someone's opinion of Roe relevant to their fitness to establish a public health program in war-torn Iraq. And where the President would throw a tantrum if controverted on anything.
6.8.2009 3:06pm
whit:

I am just noting that the standards of civility between the left and the right are very different.


evidenced by the different behaviors during speeches by left vs. right wing people at various college functions.

coulter et al have had pies thrown at them, been shouted off stage, etc.

i have yet to hear about this happening AT ALL, let alone with any frequency to left wing speakers.

when mumia abu jamal spoke at evergreen state college, people protested by simply standing up and turning their backs on the podium while he was broadcast. they didn't throw things, or try to disable the sound system.

right wing pro-life displays have been vandalized, in one case, BY A FACULTY member. i am not aware of of leftwing displays being sabotaged like that.

protests like the affirmative action bake sale resulted in (attempted) administrative action against the protestors, etc.

i don't think there's any doubt that there are different standards of civility.
6.8.2009 3:06pm
rosetta's stones:
"The Times is just the more liberal wing of the great murky center right..."

Dang, Thales, you were doing fine with the Summers as post-Reagan economic Reaganite, then you stepped into this statement. No, the NYT isn't center anything, let alone "center right". Thus, the point of this Bernstein post, to point out that which some like you still deny.

Bankruptcy just can't get here soon enough. Not even the Left is buying that rag, it seems.
6.8.2009 3:08pm
David Welker (www):
David M. Nieporent,

You are right. I am guilty of mixing metaphors. But, my excuse is that I am working off 2 hours of sleep. Although, I am perfectly capable of such errors when fully rested, that is my excuse!
6.8.2009 3:11pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
The Times may be center-right for Europe, but it happens to be an American paper. Heck, Mother Jones would be right-wing for North Korea or even Cuba, but what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?
6.8.2009 3:12pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Oh, and the same goes for Summers. He may be right of the international center, but the story happens to be about him serving in an American presidential administration.
6.8.2009 3:14pm
dmv (www):
And Summers is to the right of many, many of us who voted for Obama.


evidenced by the different behaviors during speeches by left vs. right wing people at various college functions.

[W]hit must not have watched Obama's Notre Dame speech.
6.8.2009 3:17pm
David Welker (www):
whit,

evidenced by the different behaviors during speeches by left vs. right wing people at various college functions.

Exactly what standard of civility are you employing when you create unappealing strawmen like the following:


it is just simply not talked about in polite leftist society because the data overwhelmingly suggests conclusions that the left is uncomfortable with, namely that not all inequalities of condition between the sexes is the result of nasty, evil white capitalist patriarchal heterosexist, sexist discrimination


I could object to this on three grounds. (1) It is inaccurate. (2) It is a simplistic strawman. (3) Is isn't exactly a polite way to characterize the view of those you disagree with.

Yeah. I will believe that people on the right are more civil precisely when I stop seeing these sorts of comments. I am not singling you out. At all. But, I don't think you are exactly well positioned to claim you epitomize gentlemanly and civilized discourse with arguments like these. Nor, do I think it is empirically accurate to assert that this sort of gross mischaracterization of position is rare. It comes from both sides -- including the supposedly more "civil" right.
6.8.2009 3:20pm
Sarah K.:
I am very puzzled by this post and the UPDATE. As other commenters pointed out, there is at the very least ambiguity about who used the right-of-center label. "People familiar with the deliberations say that Mr. Summers has been more populist than they expected for a right-of-center economist, siding often with Mr. Obama's political advisers." I don't even think this is ambiguous. It is a sentence about the expectations of certain "people." The sentence only makes sense if the reference point "right-of-center" comes from them. These "people" expected a right of center economist and are now surprised to see him taking what they see as the more populist positions of Obama's political advisers. (My beef with the piece would be the anonymous sourcing.) It is a far stretch to attribute the "right-of-center" label to the author or the NYT. Even if one sees more ambiguity here than I do, it takes real contortions to say without hesitation that the NYT called Summers right-of-center.

This post says a whole heck of a lot more about the lens through which David Bernstein views the world than it does about the lens of any NYT reporter: "The point of the post is that Times reporters and editors have a very odd definition of "right of center," and I'd add that reading the Times with this in mind is helpful." (Note, this update comes after commenters had already pointed the strained reading out.)

This post hurt my brain.
6.8.2009 3:22pm
q:

It is not even a remotely controversial statement within the economics community to describe Summers as right of center. He and Rubin were on the right wing of a right of center Democratic administration; Clinton in point of fact did very little that did not further cement the Reagan revolution in economic (and a lot of social) matters--he inched income taxes up (as did Reagan and Bush I, at various points) while slashing capital gains taxes, further deregulating capital markets and commercial and consumer banking and making deficit and debt reduction a principal driver of policy, to the exclusion of substantive policy goals--in fact, this last point (championed by Summers) is strongly arguably more right of center than Reagan or either of the Bushes.

Clearly, he, like almost all American economists, supports "right-of-center" "economic" policies. But "right-of-center" also includes one's preferred "social" policies, and on this, he's to the "left" of the American center.
6.8.2009 3:23pm
David Welker (www):
whit,

I hate to call you out here. But, please produce the goods. If you can.


It's possible I made some reference to innate differences. . . I did say that you have to be careful in attributing things to socialization. . . That's what we would prefer to believe, but these are things that need to be studied.



Is not equivalent to Summers saying:

"Important research is stifled due to political concerns."

Did Summer's argue that? If he did, you haven't shown it.
6.8.2009 3:24pm
Thales (mail) (www):
DB: Touche, I suppose. As I said, it's about perspective. I guess *any* paper other than a state organ would be right wing for North Korea or Cuba.

To clarify, for some: I don't think the Times seeks to rock the boat of anything. It has a conventional post-Reagan Clinton weenie liberal editorial board (I don't find the editorials liberal so much as dull, doctrinaire and poorly reasoned) and some columnists that are pretty liberal. Bob Herbert may fairly be described as left, Frank Rich is liberal with a strong civil libertarian streak, Nick Kristof is care about human beings outside of the U.S. liberal, but otherwise advocates nothing particularly radical, Thomas Friedman is "liberal" on global warming, which basically means he agrees with non insane people and science that it is real, but is pretty conservative economically and in foreign policy, David Brooks is a moderate and sometimes thoughtful neo-conservative, Maureen Dowd just has an acerbic pen and likes Republicans less than Democrats (she was pretty brutal to Clinton though). The Times' news coverage is just what passes for professionalism in factual reporting these days, not infected by some phantom spin to edge us toward the Cultural Revolution. Indeed, the most prominent examples of "spin" from the Times in recent years were the swallowing the White House's Iraq war garbage hook, line and sinker, which led us to the very liberal outcome of occupying our 51st state in Mesopotamia.
6.8.2009 3:28pm
SeaDrive:

The article refers to the comments of "people" in the White House who viewed him as right of center.


Time for all the commenters to re-read William Safire's "On Language" column yesterday in the NYT Magazine, on the use of the 'straw man' in political rhetoric.
6.8.2009 3:30pm
theobromophile (www):
Summers won the applause of attendees at a Federalist Society held at Harvard Law School because (1) he was extremely popular among Harvard students, and was under attack; (2) his opponents were (primarily) on the far left, and he stood up for common "liberal" (in the classical sense) values against them.

I was at that event and seem to also remember that when Summers made a joke about the "women in science" controversy, only a handful of people laughed. The room, by recollection, was about 80% male, but the response was mostly deadpans and the faintest of chuckling that died off when the people realised that no one else thought that it was funny.
6.8.2009 3:32pm
q:
<blockquote>
"People familiar with the deliberations say that Mr. Summers has been more populist than they expected for a right-of-center economist, siding often with Mr. Obama's political advisers." I don't even think this is ambiguous.
</blockquote>
It actually is ambiguous as to who is characterizing Summers as "right-of-center." In any case, I think you're correct that this particular article isn't very strong evidence of the NYT's alleged liberal baseline; the sentence would be pretty confusing if they had said "left-of-center" economist. However, there is other evidence, such as their frequent characterization of Richard Posner as "conservative," which is laughable.
6.8.2009 3:34pm
David Welker (www):
Speaking of civility,

What is this suggestion that if I think X, I must need a psychoanalyst from David Nieporent? Is this yet another example of maximally civil discourse from the right? I don't think so. I don't mind it. At all. But, it doesn't epitomize ideals concerning civility either.


First, nothing DB said was partisan.


Right. Bitching and whining about supposed "liberal bias" in the NY Times has been standard conservative practice for as long as I can remember. I must be crazy to associate it with partisanship.

I mean, your point would make sense. If we took this point completely out of context. Also, lets keep in mind that Bernstein does have an established history of "stirring the pot" so to speak.

Slightly more substantively:

Look, conservatives think that the NY Times is the liberal equivalent of Fox News. Even though that is completely nuts. Fox News is way more blatantly right than the NY Times is arguably left.

A final point. Before the NY Times said that Larry Summers was center-right, that ultra-liberal guy Larry Kudlow said it. So, I am not exactly sure what it proves that the NY Times said. I for one don't really care, as I think the meaning of center-left versus center-right is pretty damn vague. To me, when it comes to center-left versus center-right, the devil is in the details.

I know that Larry Summers is center-something. And that "something" is not always easy to classify.
6.8.2009 3:41pm
ArthurKirkland:

I see no distinction between describing someone as a "right-of center economist" or just "right of center."


I hope, for your sake, that Prof. Krauss (who advocates scrutiny of blog posts in tenure consideration) is not advising your tenure committee.
6.8.2009 3:43pm
Nunzio:
Does Obama not listen to Summers or is Summers just not that good of an adviser?

I'll note that unemployment has already surpassed the administration's predictions.
6.8.2009 3:44pm
SeaDrive:
In my opinion, the "center" has been drifting left over the last 200 years.


Over that 200 years, the economy has gone from being 95% agricultural to about 1 % agricultural. The industrial sector started at about zero, grew to 50% of the economy and is waning rapidly. The service sector has grown to dominate an economy that is so efficient at production of material goods that only a small minority of the population is involved with it. The service sector has both public and private components. (I'm not an economist, but I think it makes little difference to the overall economy whether a service is provided by the government or a private enterprise. It does make a difference whether it is provided well or badly.) In the end, it is wealth and technology that have driven governments to the left as they get the resources to provide services.

We are fooled by our collective memory. I'd wager that if the "center" could be scientifically determined, we would see that our collective impressions are two or three decades out of date. The true center is to the left of where we think it is. Maybe even somewhere near Larry Summers.
6.8.2009 3:45pm
Cato The Elder (mail):

I was at that event and seem to also remember that when Summers made a joke about the "women in science" controversy, only a handful of people laughed. The room, by recollection, was about 80% male, but the response was mostly deadpans and the faintest of chuckling that died off when the people realised that no one else thought that it was funny.

I'm unclear of what conclusion, if any, you're hinting at here. Could you please clarify?
6.8.2009 3:47pm
q:

I hope, for your sake, that Prof. Krauss (who advocates scrutiny of blog posts in tenure consideration) is not advising your tenure committee.

Bernstein is probably correct. "X-of-center Y" is usually interpreted as generally "X-of-center," not "X-of-center" compared to those belonging to classification Y.

Left-of-center English professor does not mean a strong leftist.
Right-of-center evangeligical preacher does not mean a strong rightist.

Try it with other examples:
right-of-center high school student
left-of-center lawyer
right-of-center accountant
left-of-center software developer

Try it with the words "leftist," "rightist," and "centrist."
6.8.2009 3:48pm
David Welker (www):

The telling aspect of the event was how embarassed and almost upset Summers was to be on the receiving end of such a nice welcome from the Federalists (you can view the video from a link on this page), and how he felt the need to disclaim their affinity for him.


As someone who was there in person, I can say that you are definitely misinterpreting Larry Summers. No one forced Larry Summers (nor then Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan) to come to the Federalist Society event. They both came in perfectly good humor, and Larry Summers was not even close to upset. He was joking. Sort of. Obviously, the joke has a grain of truth. Getting the overly enthusiastic support -- and the applause that Summers got was tremendous and very enthusiastic -- of the Federalist Society too often is probably not good for your career if your a Democrat. But, he really did think it was more funny than anything.
6.8.2009 3:49pm
ari8 (mail):
Kudlow says the whole Obama economic team is center-right, and then says that the OTHER two, but not Summers, could have served in Republican administrations. Kudlow was also completely wrong in his predictions, he was being more of his typical optimistic cheerleader self than anything.
6.8.2009 3:49pm
Sarah K.:
q:
Except that the article was discussing how some people view his economic positions (e.g. as more populist than expected). Unless Summers has a role "siding with Mr. Obama's policy makers" on non-economic issues.
6.8.2009 3:53pm
levisbaby:
I count 68100 replies an nobody has yet posted any support for the argument that Summers is _not_ a a "right of center economist."
6.8.2009 3:53pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
What is this suggestion that if I think X, I must need a psychoanalyst from David Nieporent? Is this yet another example of maximally civil discourse from the right? I don't think so. I don't mind it. At all. But, it doesn't epitomize ideals concerning civility either.
I had originally written "you," but before posting, I changed all the second person references to third person "ones."
6.8.2009 3:55pm
David Welker (www):

I had originally written "you," but before posting, I changed all the second person references to third person "ones."


It's kind of funny how that original meaning still gets through. But, nice attempt. Not that I care. Much. =)
6.8.2009 3:59pm
ari8 (mail):
lb, he has worked for a series of Democratic presidential candidates, including the rather liberal Michael Dukakis running against moderate conservative George Bush, and the rather liberal Obama against the moderate conservative John McCain. Don't you think the burden is on you to show that he IS "right of center."
6.8.2009 4:01pm
levisbaby:

Don't you think the burden is on you to show that he IS "right of center."

I have no idea what his overall political views are, but there seems to be general agreement (even among undisputedly right of center commentators) that he is a "right of center economist." And that is, after all, what he Times said.
6.8.2009 4:07pm
ari8 (mail):
Actually, if you Google Larry Summers and "liberal Democrat," you will find that he's been described by various sources as such, including by the other Times, the Times of London.
6.8.2009 4:08pm
Perseus (mail):
The folks at the NY Times could have used the term "neoliberal", which left-wing populists are fond of railing against.
6.8.2009 4:16pm
dmv (www):

Actually, if you Google Larry Summers and "liberal Democrat," you will find that he's been described by various sources as such, including by the other Times, the Times of London.

The other Times, the Times of London, was woefully incorrect.

Don't you think the burden is on you to show that he IS "right of center."

I still don't get how people are claiming Summers is some big liberal. Willful denial of reality? Just trying to be difficult? What?
6.8.2009 4:24pm
rosetta's stones:
Well, you have to remember, the Paulsens, Rubins and Summers can't be judged by the same political yardstick used on everybody else. Those guys move in and out of government, rake in the cash from their buds in the WS and finance world, then come back to government when they get tired of raking in cash, and when their buds need a little help from government.

It's hardly an arms length relationship with the likes of Summers, and it just so happens that his buddies' needs are in line with Obama's socialist impulse here, but it's only coincidence, I suspect. You can't really determine what Summers' "political" impulse is... and it wouldn't matter even if you could... because like Paulsen and Rubin, he's helping out his buddies first and foremost.

It's funny to hear Obama railing about the evil Big 3 debtholders, and firing their CEO's, and appointing compensation czars... when he's got the poster child for all that sitting at his conference room table.
6.8.2009 4:29pm
rosetta's stones:
...and yes, Kudlow would be head cheerleader for all of the above.
6.8.2009 4:30pm
Suzy:
I would have assumed the "right of center" tag was coming from the sources, who were surprised to find him more populist than they expected for a right of center guy, and not from the Times itself.
6.8.2009 4:33pm
Careless:

I have no idea what his overall political views are, but there seems to be general agreement (even among undisputedly right of center commentators) that he is a "right of center economist." And that is, after all, what he Times said.

He's given political donations a half dozen times this decade, all to Democrats (including Hillary and Obama)
6.8.2009 4:52pm
levisbaby:

He's given political donations a half dozen times this decade, all to Democrats (including Hillary and Obama)

and?

I mean, you did see that he was described as a "right of center economist", right? That's what the article said? Have anything to offer about why he is not that?
6.8.2009 4:55pm
frankcross (mail):
Summers has gone on record as being
-- against tax increases
-- for greater free trade
-- for shipping hazardous wastes to poor countries
-- criticizing liberal mandated benefit programs

What are his leftwing economic positions?
6.8.2009 5:25pm
wfjag:

Also, several commenters complain that this is a "partisan" post. The point of the post is that Times reporters and editors have a very odd definition of "right of center," and I'd add that reading the Times with this in mind is helpful. I'm a bit at a loss as to why that is "partisan."

Dear Professor:
Would it help your understanding if you knew that today is the 60th anniversary of the publication of 1984? Perhaps, instead of using the word "partisan," you would understand if it was said that your post was "double plus not correct."
6.8.2009 6:05pm
anon.:
Doesn't economics purport to be a science? Doesn't it purport to make accurate predictions about what will happen in the world? How is that a left/right thing? I certainly recognize that, in the real world, many economists views will be biased by their political ideology, but, all things equal, freer trade either improves overall standards of living, or it doesn't. The Keynsian multiplier is either greater than 1, or it isn't.

It's perfectly possible to be liberal on a host of issues (military interventionism, gay marriage, drug policy, etc.) and still be led by honest scientific inquiry to the conclusion that free trade improves our overall standard of living, or that the Keynsian multiplier is less than one.

Seriously, if most non-economist liberals believe that the fact is X, and a liberal economist believes that it's Y, does that make him a "right-of-center economist?" Or isn't it just the case that he's a specialist who thinks that other non-specialists don't have all their facts straight?
6.8.2009 6:07pm
BABH:
If you want to take self-identified Democrats (~39%) and Republicans (~28%) and claim that a portion of the remaining 33% of the population that is either independent, moderate, other, neither, refused to answer, etc. can reasonably be apportioned to Democrats to give them a majority, that's one thing.


This is exactly what I meant, as I would have thought was obvious. See here. "Democrats" plus "Independents leaning Democrat" are pretty consistently over 50%, back to the beginning of 2006.

Perhaps I should have said: "A majority of Americans self-identify with the Democrats."

My point remains that there are plenty of Democrats who are outright conservatives (never mind right-of-center), just as there are many Republicans who are liberals.

And making a self-deprecating joke when a crowd applauds is hardly evidence that one is embarrassed by the audience - just that one is embarrassed by applause in general.
6.8.2009 6:28pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
q, Careless, Davis Bernstein (and some others). Let me try one more time.

TFNAE [The following are NOT equivalent]

(1) An economist who holds right-of-center political views.
(2) An economist who hold liberal political views but whose economic theories fall on the right side of the spectrum of economic theories.

The NY Times appears to me to be describing Summers as type (2). (Indeed, they don't refer to him as generally liberal, but I'll concede that.) Who Summers gives to in political campaigns is evidence that he is not of type (1) but that is not at issue. There's little (not none) evidence on this thread trying to prove that Summers is a liberal with economic theories that fall on the left side of the spectrum of economic theories.
6.8.2009 6:33pm
anon.:
TFNAE [The following are NOT equivalent]

(1) An economist who holds right-of-center political views.
(2) An economist who hold liberal political views but whose economic theories fall on the right side of the spectrum of economic theories.

An economist's theories may be more or less congenial to people of a certain political persuasion, but that does not mean that those theories, which purport to objectively describe the world, are liberal or conservative. I'm sure that many conservative Christians dislike the view of the world presented by physics, astronomy, and evolutionary biology, but that does not make any of those disciplines "left of center," nor does it make physicists, astronomers, or biologists liberals.
6.8.2009 6:38pm
Careless:

TFNAE [The following are NOT equivalent]

(1) An economist who holds right-of-center political views.
(2) An economist who hold liberal political views but whose economic theories fall on the right side of the spectrum of economic theories.

The NY Times appears to me to be describing Summers as type (2)

I agree. It's probably poor writing, not a case of seeing Summers as being on the right.
6.8.2009 6:46pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Lazy, meaningless writing if that's what was written.

Someone who is right of center could also be described as a centrist, if he's not as far right as Boehner or Gramm.

'Right of center' doesn't convey any meaning to me, nor, judging from the comments, to anyone else either.
6.8.2009 7:24pm
Recovering Law Grad:
I love how Bernstein puts quotes around the word partisan, as if its usage in the criticisms leveled against him was somehow new, strange, or alien to him.
6.8.2009 7:41pm
Perseus (mail):
Summers has gone on record as being
-- against tax increases
-- for greater free trade
-- for shipping hazardous wastes to poor countries
-- criticizing liberal mandated benefit programs

What are his leftwing economic positions?


Lawrence Summers:
-- complains about a "race to the bottom" in corporate taxation and regulation and praises "progressives"
-- opposed Bush's Social Security personal accounts (and defended investing SS funds in the stock market)
-- supports a minimum wage
-- is categorized as a liberal by people such as Jonathan Chait of TNR

Sure, Summers is not a wild-eyed liberal, but that doesn't make him right-of-center.
6.8.2009 7:43pm
Ben P:

-- supports a minimum wage


That's a "left wing" economic position?

Calling for Abolishing a minimum wage would be a distinctly right wing position. I'm not sure at all that Summers merely admitting that


"Minimum wage laws do interfere with exchange," Summers said. But he added that the positive effects outweigh the inconveniences of the minimum wage.


qualifies as left wing at all. I think it puts him on the center, possibly even just to the right of it, when "the left" advocates substantial increases in minimum wage for reasons not related to economic efficiency.


Your point about corporate tax rates being a race to the bottom is admittedly a little more left, but even then it's pretty lukewarm as a "left wing" position. The focus on the article is not strictly pro-tax, but rather speculating about hte costs and benefits of merely slashing tax rates to get more business to come to a particular country.

Your final point isn't an economic position at all.
6.8.2009 8:01pm
mattski:
From the Times article:

Mr. Summers and Mr. Geithner have generally agreed that the government should not dictate executive pay and other management policies at companies receiving government aid.

I'd call that a right-of-center economic position.

Last fall, during the campaign, I heard Summers debate McCain's top economic advisor on NPR. My eyebrows shot up when I heard Summers say in effect that there are no good reasons to limit income or profits no matter how stratospheric. I would call that a right-of-center economic position.

Also, Summers is famously abrasive. Granted, not an economic position, but...
6.8.2009 8:11pm
mattski:
Another point: As someone has already mentioned above, Clinton described his administration as "Eisenhower Republicans." I think that is quite fair.

Summers was Clinton's Treasury Secretary. Clinton has admitted erring on the question of derivatives regulation. I think it is entirely fair to characterize what Clinton/Rubin/Summers did, essentially caving in to the Greenspan view, as right-of-center economics.

I'm pleased that Clinton at least recognized it as an error. Hopefully Summers has too. But as far as Summers actual record is concerned, this is more support for "right-of-center."
6.8.2009 8:36pm
Perseus (mail):
That's a "left wing" economic position?

Support for the minimum wage is not normally identified as a right-wing position. That's why liberals like to beat conservatives over the head with the issue when they oppose increasing it (or try to find ways to blunt its effects). Or, simply ask, "what would Milton Friedman do"? And speaking of Friedman, here's what Summers had to say about him:

"Milton Friedman and I probably never voted the same way in any election. To my mind, his thinking gave too little weight to considerations of social justice and was far too cynical about the capacity of collective action to make people better off. I believe that some of the great challenges we face today, like rising inequality and global climate change, require that the free market be tempered instead of venerated."


the focus on the article is not strictly pro-tax, but rather speculating about hte costs and benefits of merely slashing tax rates to get more business to come to a particular country.

According to Greg Mankiw, who responded directly to Summers' piece: "if you think that the main job of government is to facilitate voluntary exchange by protecting property rights, rather than re-slicing the economic pie as it sees fit, then tax competition is a good check against excessive interventionism."

Also, Summers is famously abrasive. Granted, not an economic position, but...

You need to get out more if you think that abrasiveness is a characteristic trait of the right-of-center.
6.8.2009 8:43pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
db:

Times reporters and editors have a very odd definition of "right of center"


You have a very odd definition of very odd, since NR/Kudlow share the same definition that you very oddly consider very odd when expressed by NYT. (And this is putting aside what several people have pointed out, that NYT was describing the view of a source, not their own view.)

reading the Times with this in mind is helpful


Reading you with this in mind is helpful. Especially since several people have mentioned the Kudlow citation, and you have pointedly neglected to acknowledge it in your comments or update.

=============
perseus:

What are his leftwing economic positions?


supports a minimum wage


Pew, 4/19/06: "By an overwhelming margin (83% to 14%), the American public favors raising the federal minimum wage."

What meaning is the term "leftwing" supposed to have if a policy supported by 83% of Americans is considered "leftwing?" I guess this is similar to using the word 'socialism' to describe marginal rax rates lower than what was in effect during the Reagan years.

By the way, when Bush I campaigned in 1988 he pledged to raise the minimum wage. So that means he was "leftwing," right?
6.8.2009 8:44pm
mattski:

You need to get out more if you think that abrasiveness is a characteristic trait of the right-of-center.

A little humor was intended. But, frankly, no I don't think it is a stretch to say that right leaning politics are less cordial and less cooperative than the left leaning variety and there is a specific reason for that. The essence of 'right leaning' is isolation, the denial of social bonds of mutual responsibility. The essence of 'left leaning' is a merging together of individuals into a whole.

In his/her heart a rightist says "get away from me."
In the heart of a leftist is more of a "we're all together here."

Mind you, I'm not saying yours is bad and mine is good. They're both valuable, and they're both dangerous when taken to an extreme.
6.8.2009 9:33pm
Perseus (mail):
An economist who hold liberal political views but whose economic theories fall on the right side of the spectrum of economic theories.

Summers is no Chicago free-market type economist, so I wouldn't place him on the right either.
6.8.2009 9:38pm
Perseus (mail):
In his/her heart a rightist says "get away from me."
In the heart of a leftist is more of a "we're all together here."


Libertarians are more "get away from me" while traditionalists and neoconservatives are more communitarian. All strongly believe, however, that the social bonds of mutual responsibility are weakened by a large welfare state.
6.8.2009 9:44pm
frankcross (mail):
David, the thread has provided about six conservative positions on Summers (the article itself had two). I guess I can give you minimum wage as a liberal position, though after the Card/Krueger research this is somewhat less clear. At any rate, it's not ridiculous to call him right of center. Larry Kudlow did so. That doesn't make Kudlow a leftist. Since this is expressing the position of a liberal Administration, it is more credible that this is their view of him
6.8.2009 9:50pm
Cato The Elder (mail):
The merging of individuals as a whole...certainly explains communism. I am but a limb of the State. You are but the heel of the State. Frankcross is but the tongue of the State. And so on.
6.8.2009 10:02pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
perseus:

And speaking of Friedman, here's what Summers had to say about him


You didn't give us a link, or any context. Those words Summers wrote, which are mildly critical of Friedman, are part of this op-ed, which is mostly effusive praise:

Friedman was the most influential economist of the second half [of the 20th century]. … any honest Democrat will admit that we are now all Friedmanites. … Friedman… has had more influence on economic policy as it is practiced around the world today than any other modern figure. … Friedman's great popular contribution lay … in convincing people of the importance of allowing free markets to operate. … This all would be enough to mark Milton Friedman as a great man. … I feel that I have lost a hero — a man whose success demonstrates that great ideas convincingly advanced can change the lives of people around the world.


The way you quoted Summers discussing Friedman doesn't accurately summarize "what Summers had to say about him."
6.8.2009 10:05pm
stevefromcleveland:

Some commenters argue that the Times was describing Summers as a "right of center economist"

This may be traceable back to the fact that the Times described him as a "right of center economist"
6.8.2009 10:41pm
frankcross (mail):
Cato, you seem to have developed an obsession with me, and I'm flattered, but I'm very pro-free enterprise and against much government regulation.

Steve, it is actually quite unclear that the NYT called him right of center. It sounds to me like they were saying that Administration insiders called him right of center, but the language is ambiguous.
6.8.2009 10:58pm
Desiderius:
The Federalist Society itself is left-of-center, or at least liberal-of-center. The labels in general are bassakwards.
6.8.2009 10:59pm
Desiderius:
The corollary of course follows that the NYT is right-of-center. If you don't believe me, check the ads.

Mattski,

There are plenty of libertarians who believe that we're all in this together, which is why we trust one another with each other's freedom instead of resorting to coercion at the drop of a hat.
6.8.2009 11:04pm
Perseus (mail):
The criticisms of Friedman along with the other quotes highlight precisely why Summers is not right-of-center (and presumably why he is a Democrat).
6.8.2009 11:22pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Frank, as pointed out in the comments, Kudlow didn't call Summers right of center, he said he was part of a right-of-center team, and specifically excluded him as someone who could plausibly serve in a Republican Administration.

If the Times reporter was stating that the administration people thought, perhaps incorrectly, that Summers was right of center, the reporter should have written something "who they perceived as a right of center economist." Without saying that, even if the original source are others in the administration, identifying Summers as "right of center" becomes the reporters' position. If I wrote, "professors I spoke to at the University of Texas were surprised that Frank Cross, a liberal law professor, expressed such conservative views at a faculty meeting," it would be very odd to argue that I wasn't stating you were liberal, I was just repeating what your colleagues told me. If I wrote, ""professors I spoke to at the University of Texas were surprised that Frank Cross, who they had perceived to be a liberal law professor, expressed such conservative views at a faculty meeting," that's a different story.
6.9.2009 12:04am
MnZ (mail):
Ben P said:


Calling for Abolishing a minimum wage would be a distinctly right wing position. I'm not sure at all that Summers merely admitting that

"Minimum wage laws do interfere with exchange," Summers said. But he added that the positive effects outweigh the inconveniences of the minimum wage.

qualifies as left wing at all. I think it puts him on the center, possibly even just to the right of it, when "the left" advocates substantial increases in minimum wage for reasons not related to economic efficiency.


So, left of center economists are the ones who deny reality? Minimum wage laws do interfere with exchange. That is what they are all about. They make certain labor agreements illegal that would have otherwise been entered into. They still might be beneficial overall.

This reminds me of when I was an economics teaching assistant. The left wing students were convinced I was a wild-eyed fascist when I taught that rent control discouraged investment in new apartment buildings. On the other hand, he right wing students thought I was a socialist when I taught about externalities.
6.9.2009 12:26am
mattski:

There are plenty of libertarians who believe that we're all in this together, which is why we trust one another with each other's freedom instead of resorting to coercion at the drop of a hat.

Des,

I'm trying to point to fundamental qualities in human nature, IOW, the impulses behind the labels. If you look at it carefully I believe you'll see what I mean.

MnZ,

So, left of center economists are the ones who deny reality?

You cited Summers saying precisely what you accuse him of denying. I don't mean to pick on you in particular, but your comment is all too representative of what passes for discussion here.

Here's another tidbit of human nature. Average folks don't want to bother actually looking for new information, they want to tell you what they already think.
6.9.2009 5:42am
rosetta's stones:

The essence of 'left leaning' is a merging together of individuals into a whole.


Precisely, and they get that... whether they want it or not. That's leftism.
6.9.2009 7:48am
Ben P:

So, left of center economists are the ones who deny reality? Minimum wage laws do interfere with exchange. That is what they are all about. They make certain labor agreements illegal that would have otherwise been entered into. They still might be beneficial overall.


You don't think that's true?

You know as well as I do that Economics isn't so cut and dried as to not be subject to varied (or nudged as the case may be) interpretations of the data. People who think for moral or whatever reasons, that a minimum wage should be higher, can find economic arguments in support of that.

I'm reading Summer's statement to imply a belief that whether or not a minimum wage is a good thing will be the result of it's actual effects. I wouldn't say that's a right wing position, but it's not really a left wing one.

By way of explaining, trying to articulate this made me think of Cass Sunstein who, although not an economist, is another person whose politics are difficult to define. A post was made here of Sunstein using behavior economics favoring cost benefit analysis for lots of policies.

That's that's neither really right wing or left wing, but I think it leans toward the right. A person who's more liberal doesn't want to consider the cost benefit of the policy because there's moral reasons for supporting a policy. A person who's more to the right is more likely to place a much greater emphasis on not interfering with the market in the first place no matter the emphasis.
6.9.2009 9:14am
Philistine (mail):

Frank, as pointed out in the comments, Kudlow didn't call Summers right of center, he said he was part of a right-of-center team, and specifically excluded him as someone who could plausibly serve in a Republican Administration.



The statement was "In fact, there is no question that Obama's economic team is right of center. All three are market-oriented. They're also pro-free-trade."

It seems the two following sentences, speaking about "all three" and "they" are used to support the contention that the "team" is right of center--which certainly suggests to me that it is Kudlow's opinion that all three are "right of center." Of course, YMMV.



If I wrote, "professors I spoke to at the University of Texas were surprised that Frank Cross, a liberal law professor, expressed such conservative views at a faculty meeting," it would be very odd to argue that I wasn't stating you were liberal, I was just repeating what your colleagues told me. If I wrote, ""professors I spoke to at the University of Texas were surprised that Frank Cross, who they had perceived to be a liberal law professor, expressed such conservative views at a faculty meeting," that's a different story



Your first one isn't an accurate paraphrase of the Times story. Just substituting gives: "Professors I spoke to at the University of Texas say that Frank Cross has been more conservative in his statements at faculty meetings than they expected for a liberal law professor."

To my mind--the use of "surprised" and "than they expected" and especially "for a" in the sentence make it clear that it is the person being interviewed that held the perception of the political views of Summers (or Cross, in the paraphrase).

While the writer may also hold that same perception--there is nothing at all in the way it is phrased to suggest so--and I don't see how the sentence can be read to suggest that the people being interviewed did not initially believe Summers was "right of center."
6.9.2009 10:04am
frankcross (mail):
DB, this thread has gone on a long time. And over a tiny choice of wording in a long article. That seems strange. The journalist could have worded it better, I said that from the beginning. But in the annals of journalistic mistakes, this would seem to be a really, really, small trivial one. And a strange hook for launching an attack on the NYT.

And as Philistine notes, you seem to be misrepresenting Kudlow's statement. And Summers has a long list of conservative positions that you haven't addressed. I'm sure his position is debatable, but it is a plausible argument that he's right of center. Not an outlandish one demonstrating some great bias.
6.9.2009 10:40am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Frank, I could turn it around, and say an often lot of commenters have spent a lot of time trying to show that a moderately liberal Democratic economist is really "right of center," dispute a rather short and not especially significant post. But if you're hinting that the thread has run its course, I think you're right.
6.9.2009 11:17am
rosetta's stones:
Yes, like the NY Times itself, this thread has run its course.
6.9.2009 11:43am
mattski:

Frank, I could turn it around, and say an [awful] lot of commenters have spent a lot of time trying to show that a moderately liberal Democratic economist is really "right of center," dispute a rather short and not especially significant post.

Or, you could acknowledge that general terms like "liberal" and "right-of-center" are highly subjective and it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that people use them differently.
6.9.2009 3:06pm
Desiderius:
Mattski,

"I'm trying to point to fundamental qualities in human nature, IOW, the impulses behind the labels. If you look at it carefully I believe you'll see what I mean."

I see it very clearly, and would contend that you construct the label "libertarian" too narrowly, perhaps giving too much weight to doctrinaire libertarians and too little to many of your fellow citizens who are, in fact, functional libertarians, at least relative to other cultures.

We are not thereby less prone to associate - indeed more.
6.9.2009 7:53pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
db:

Kudlow didn't call Summers right of center, he said he was part of a right-of-center team, and specifically excluded him as someone who could plausibly serve in a Republican Administration.


Philistine already cited some of the text. Here's a more complete passage:

… there is no question that Obama's economic team is right of center. All three are market-oriented. They're also pro-free-trade. Hopefully Summers and Geithner maintain the Robert Rubin King Dollar policy of the Clinton years. And if Ms. Romer can stop tax hikes, that will help the greenback even more.

At a minimum, both Romer and Geithner could have served under Gerald Ford or George H. W. Bush. But they may be more pro-growth than that. Romer's study of the damage of tax hikes on the economy and her emphasis on investment are right on target. In a New York Times story, a former Treasury colleague of Geithner's says, "he's no liberal." As for Summers, while he has been mau-maued by Democratic feminists and some of the unions, he is a tough, clear-headed thinker who has for years tried to merge Keynesian and supply-side policies. No mean feat.


The premise of your post is that Summers is far from "right of center," and therefore it's "very odd" to hear someone apply that label to him. But if that was true, what becomes "very odd" is Kudlow's emphatic statement ("there is no question"). If only 2/3 of "Obama's economic team is right of center," then we would expect a more qualified statement from Kudlow. Like 'mostly' or 'generally.' By saying "there is no question," he's making reference to all 3. And he reinforces this reference when he begins his next sentence with these words: "all three." (I realize a couple of other people have also pointed this out.)

Yes, Kudlow indicates that "Romer and Geithner [but not Summers] could have served under Gerald Ford or George H. W. Bush." But that just means that they are even more to the right than Summers.

Aside from that, the 'evidence' in your original post consisted mostly of pointing out that Summers has worked for Democrats. Kudlow's statement points out the hollowness of this 'evidence.' Obama is ostensibly an extreme liberal or socialist, and he nevertheless mostly hired, for his economic team, people who (according to Kudlow) "could have served under Gerald Ford or George H. W. Bush." This is sufficient to demonstrate that the 'evidence' you offered doesn't mean much.

an often lot of commenters have spent a lot of time trying to show that a moderately liberal Democratic economist is really "right of center," dispute a rather short and not especially significant post.


I don't think the commenters are inherently interested in the question of exactly what shade of gray should be applied to Summers. My guess is that they are more interested in the peculiar nature of your post itself.
6.10.2009 7:20am

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